Is This Relationship Over? with Jane Coaston | Crooked Media
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December 07, 2022
Work Appropriate
Is This Relationship Over? with Jane Coaston

In This Episode

Sometimes there’s no amount of therapy that’s going to fix your relationship with your job. Sometimes your company’s culture might be irreparably toxic. And also, sometimes you’re just… bored. But when should you cut bait and move on? Jane Coaston, host of the New York Times podcast The Argument, joins host Anne Helen Petersen to answer listeners’ questions about whether it’s time to quit.

Got a workplace quandary you need help figuring out? Head to and let us know.




Anne Helen Petersen: Hi, everyone. I’m Anne Helen Petersen. And this is Work Appropriate. [music break] Sometimes there is just no amount of therapy that is going to fix your relationship with your job. You might be deeply demoralized and there is just no coming back from that, or your organization just might be toxic and you can’t fix that. Today, my co-host and expert advice giver is Jane Coaston, host of the New York Times Opinion Podcast, The Argument, who also happens to have quit a lot of jobs and figured out how to stay at a lot of others. I’ve long admired Jane’s ability to get to the very heart of an issue and mediate complicated conversations about it. Whether she’s talking about politics or celebrity or Michigan football. And I wanted to have her on the podcast today to make some truly tough calls. Today, we’ll hear from people who are figuring out if they can or should try and make it work or if they should just cut bait altogether. Because sometimes you really just need to break up with a job in order to figure out how to thrive in another. So do you have a good quitting story? I know that you’ve quit a couple of jobs, but do you have a story? It could be something where you left amicably. It could be something where you did not leave amicably, like, whatever. 


Jane Coaston: So there were, like, two jobs. There was one where I quit because my boss was like, I’m too old to be making this reference, but, you know, like Dolores Umbridge and Harry Potter and how she just, like, slowly drove everyone insane. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: She was like that. And I was just like, well, I could just hate every day of the rest of my life. Or I could find a new job. My dad had the same job for 25 years. He was a librarian at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County. And I think when I was a kid, I just thought that like you, you know, and you graduated from college, you got a job, and then you just did that until you died. And it did not take long living in D.C. before I was like, oh, that’s just not what it is here. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: And so, you know, I quit that job. And then like, there was another job in which I was like, I could tell they do not want me here. I don’t want to be here. And I remember, like, they brought me into this room to have the kind of like, here’s how things are going, conversation. And I just stopped them and I was like, we both know this isn’t working. [laughter] It’s the only time I’ve ever, like, broken up with a job like that. Just being like, I’m going to leave, you know, here’s my notice. I’m going to go. Can we just wrap this up? And I think they were kind of surprised, but I was just like, this is not worth it. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: Like the fact that I had at that job, the person I worked for, I grew to hate her to a degree where I was like, this isn’t good for me— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: —this is turning into like Count of Monte Cristo-esque— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right, right, right. [both speaking] like doing this is making me a worse person. 


Jane Coaston: Yes. Yes. When I still when I think about her, I’m still like, oh, I hope she’s suffering. That’s not good. [laughter] This was like it got to the point where I was like, at the end of my day, I would just be like, maybe she’s going to get hit by a car. No, no, that’s bad. That’s very bad—


Anne Helen Petersen: That’s a sign that you should quit your job. So, I also come from a family where the jobs that my parents started in, you know, basically their professional jobs. So my mom, after having kids and then my dad took his first job out of medical school, they kept them their entire lives. 


Jane Coaston: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And so there’s this real tension, I think, and a lot of people feel this and maybe pressure, but also just an understanding of how jobs work. That like even though industries have changed dramatically and we understand that like, no, we’re no longer in the jobs where you get retirement watches. But there’s still something kind of weird about quitting jobs, right? Like it indicates like, oh, maybe I’m a bad fit for, like, everything. 


Jane Coaston: Oh, yeah. I think the biggest one of the major lessons I’ve learned as an adult is that sometimes you are the problem, but sometimes you are not the problem. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. [laughs] 


Jane Coaston: And it’s amazing to me now that I have a job that I really like and that I am pretty good at that. Oh, like it’s not me. Those other jobs were not what I was supposed to be doing. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: And I don’t think that they’re I think that sometimes we get into this like, oh, once you find your calling, you’ll never work a day in your life. But I’m like, no, no. Like even the people I know who are like, I have a good friend who is like a NICU pediatrician— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: —which, one, is like the hardest thing I can possibly imagine? But that is what she is called to do. And all the time she’s just like, sometimes I just want to leave the hospital, never come back. And I’m like, yeah, I could see that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: You don’t need to stay in a job. Like it’s not like, you know, a 1940s marriage where you have to stay in it for the kids. Like nobody. Nobody. This isn’t your family— 


Anne Helen Petersen: There’s no moral balance, right? There’s no moral valence to quitting. And I think that’s something that we have, lost— 


Jane Coaston: No, especially because then you see, if you leave a job, I’ve worked enough places where they kind of have this weird like, oh, if you leave or quit or they fire you, they consider you an alumni of that job. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: And then they put you on a newsletter, [laughter] which is the funniest thing in the world. But yet you see the people who come in and are like, This is the best job I’ve ever had. I’ve been here for 12 years. I never want to do anything else. And I’m like, see, this is great for you. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, totally. 


Jane Coaston: It’s like if you break up with someone and then they get married, you’re like, great. [laughs] 


Anne Helen Petersen: You know, we were talking in a previous episode about like how it’s better sometimes to identify when their relationship is broken early. Right. Even though it might seem awkward. But if three months in, you know that it’s not working, you’re like, hey, this isn’t working for either one of us. Like, it’s actually easier to extricate myself now than later. I will just say that my my big quitting experience was when I first graduated from college and couldn’t find a job in film, and media studies. Big surprise there. But I worked at a childcare center and I was in that infant room with kids from six months up till two years old. But I was only getting paid, I don’t know, like $9 an hour. And it just was not enough to live in Seattle at that time, even living with three roommates. And my friend found me a nanny job and I didn’t know how to quit, though, in part because this is something that you’re never taught. And so I lied and said I was moving back home to Idaho in order to quit. Right. Like I didn’t have any way to say, like, this is not enough money for me to live on here, and this is why I’m quitting. And I think that the head of that center knew that turnover was just like part of the business, and that’s just it. But I didn’t have any structure of how to quit gracefully, I guess, is what I would say. 


Jane Coaston: Right, right. I think that there’s especially when it’s something like that, where you were working with their children, like actual children involved. And I’m like, oh, this is why like I’m always very impressed when I know teachers who are like, I need to quit this job. But there is always the like— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes. 


Jane Coaston: Like because I can think you are aware that, like you are actually dealing with children also because children’s perspective of what teachers do seems to be that like you’ll just be here forever, right? This is all you do. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And you also feel like I’m doing something altruistic. And if I quit, I am no longer an altruistic person when, no, there’s a lot more involved here and we’re going to get into all of this. So I think our first question is going to set the stage for our whole discussion. This question is from Robert and our friend Saul, who produces X-Ray Vision and Pod Save The World is going to read it for us. 


Robert: How do I know when it’s time to change jobs? This is coming from someone who has a comfortable and well-paying, if slightly boring office job but is still feeling burnt out for, I think, unsurprising and common reasons. All things considered, a very good situation to be in. I have been interviewing a bit, but I’m worried it’s a grass is always greener deal. What should I be thinking about when considering these other positions besides the obvious of compensation and how comfortable I’d be working at the company? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So I will just start by saying that I think sometimes the problem isn’t a particular job, it’s just jobs, right? Like I have seen this with people who have changed jobs and thought it was going to fix their entire lives. Right? If I can just quit this job and I can just start this new job, everything in my life is going to fall into place and then find themselves very surprised when that is not the case. When really it’s their relationship to work specifically. Right. 


Jane Coaston: Right. Yeah. And I think that there is a lot to be said about the fact that like attempting to find personal fulfillment through work for the vast majority of people is going to be very difficult. Yeah, like for most people you are working for the same reason my dad worked. When my dad would come home from work every day, I would ask him how his day was and he would say, work-like, [laughter] and every single day— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Thats so Dad, oh my God— 


Jane Coaston: —and it drove me insane. This went on for like I think I asked him once a day, every day, because I was like, that’s what you do when you’re a polite person. From the time I was five until I gave up at like 15 and it was always work-like. And then I realized eventually that my dad likes his job enough, but what his job allowed him to do was to pay for the stuff he actually wanted to do. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Mm, yeah. 


Jane Coaston: He wanted to raise his kids, have his house, play his guitars, look at hawks, watch World War Two documentaries and ride his bike. And so I think that, like, what I would say is if you are going in to work every day dreading it, or if there’s like a person at your work where you’re just like and again, imagining them getting hit by motor vehicles, like, yeah, maybe it’s time to look around. But sometimes I think that like a comfortable and well-paying, if slightly boring office job seems like the kind of thing that invites not necessarily changing jobs because you could do this forever and always kind of be looking for like the one true job, right? You should. I would also advise like getting a hobby or taking up something like I know Anne, you run— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: —and I do like weightlifting and stuff. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: And it is really nice where it’s like, yeah, like my day might be boring, but I know I’ve got this work out or I’m thinking about this other thing or you’re like taking a class. We’ve been trying to get into a pottery class, but it turns out that, like, due to COVID everyone—


Anne Helen Petersen: Everyone wants to take a pottery class, right? 


Jane Coaston: I’m like, what? I. Well, we are continually on, on the hunt for like something to do together or like getting into bike riding or hiking or something like that. Because the point of your job, I think in some ways is like ideally a job should be something that you like to do that can gradually help create something good, like my dad’s job at the library. In many times he recognized that, especially in one of the libraries where he worked in Cincinnati, he was for some kids, they would call him Mr. Byron, and he he would come home and talk to my mom about how he realized that he was the only adult Black male that they saw every day who worke, like a tie. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: And so all these little kids would, like, come to our house and stand outside and wait for him and just want to say hello to him. And, like, that is something that, you know, I can host a podcast for a thousand years and I will never do anything that is as important as what he was doing, just working at the library. But for a lot of people, your job is not your job. Your job is the thing that enables you to do the most important parts of your life. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. I think a lot of people are coming into that realization, but it is in some ways blasphemy against the ideology that I think has become increasingly popular and used in a lot of ways to encourage people not to push back against exploitation, which is that like your job should be your identity, your job is your life. Like your job should be your passion. And there should be no space for anything other than that other than maybe family. Right? 


Jane Coaston: Mm hmm. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And, you know, when Charlie and I were writing our book about, like, the future of remote work, like, one of the things we really focused on was the fact that, like, when you work from home or whatever your job is, if you have a more flexible schedule, you are able to make space for those other parts of your life, whether it’s family or community building or hobbies, in a way that the very strict 9 to 5 job made it more difficult for the salary job that slipped into every single part of your life. And I think some people really resisted that. They’re like, how dare you talk about hobbies when people like can’t find steady employment? 


Jane Coaston: Which yeah, when I was unemployed at the point, you know, when I was living in St Louis and I was waking up every day at 5:00 in the afternoon because that’s when the people I was living with would get home from work. And that’s when I was like, okay, I have to pretend as if I was awake because like it was like my body was like just shut down for a while. You don’t really need to do anything. And like, yeah, I didn’t have any hobbies. I didn’t have anything else to do because that was just thinking about how you pay for things or thinking about how you can’t pay for things. Like there really was something weirdly freeing about when I would get calls from like credit card companies or student loan companies saying I was behind in payments and just being like, well, life’s tough, isn’t it? [laughter] There’s really nothing I can do about that. Like like as if that I had secret money that I just wasn’t giving to them. I’m like, no, no, I haven’t forgotten to pay you. I um, I cannot pay you. And so I think that, like, if you can have hobbies, you should have hobbies, because I do understand that. Like, I think that that sometimes bothers me about how our work discourse and our political discourse, which are inherently connected, often are interwoven. Because I think that there is this idea that like one people, low income folks, don’t have hobbies or interests because they are too busy to do so. And I’m like, no, it’s because like they do have hobbies and interests and often it’s just that like they are trying to have those hobbies and interests within their work time. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: For instance, I know a bunch of folks who if you work like those Amazon jobs or even if you’ve ever had like I wash dishes in college and the amount of nonsensical discussions we got into like about nothing or about like the hobbies you would you kind of participate in your hobby while working. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: But also, I think that there’s this idea, it’s that like tankie Twitter thing of like, oh, wonderful communism. I could finally go to art school. I’m like no, [laughter] that’s famously that’s, you know, Stalinist Russia was not known for allowing you to pursue your dreams. But I do think that, like being able to pursue a hobby should not be a privilege in the first place. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: How many people who have worked really difficult jobs still were like after work? I’m going to go to my workshop and do something? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: My dad built builds model airplanes out of balsa wood. Like there’s always something like that. You should be able to have access to that. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Well, it’s the tension between work to live and live to work right? 


Jane Coaston: Right. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And I think that like growing up, my town is a mill town and people who worked at that mill had knew what shift they were going to work, right? 


Jane Coaston: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And they knew how many days they were going to work. And it was steady work. And then they use the rest of their time to go hunt. Right. Or to go fish or to go camp or be out in the wilderness, which is a pretty low cost thing that you can do when you have a steady schedule. So it’s less about, I think, how much money you have and more about do you have the funds to just back up like that that your hobby in some way? And bringing this back to our original discussion, I think our advice isn’t like, oh, stop thinking about if the grass is always greener and get a hobby. It’s more like, how do you make other things in your life fulfilling so that you’re not constantly thinking of your job as the thing that you need to be optimizing or making perfect in some way? Because your job will just be like funding. 


Jane Coaston: I mean, it’s called work for a reason [laughter] if it weren’t work, it would be something else. But like living to work and working like you got to work to live at a certain point. Like, it’s great when you like what you do. Like, you know, I think I have friends who, especially in sportswriting, who are like, yes, my job is difficult and often in many places very underpaid, but holy shit, my job is I have to go watch college football—


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: —and I’m like, like there’s a degree to which it’s like if you’re 11 years old, you’re like, well, that’s it. That’s everything I’ve ever wanted. But like, that job also needs to be something where you leave and then you go do have your real life. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Jane, will you give like a capsule of advice here for for Robert? 


Jane Coaston: What you’re looking for is satisfaction and you’re not likely to be able to find that through jobs. Comfortable and boring can be okay for a while. And when it stops being okay, you can leave your job. But get up, you know, find a hobby, take up CrossFit, get into running, maybe try kayaking. [laughter]




Anne Helen Petersen: Our next question is from Elsa, whose job changed dramatically after she had a baby. 


Elsa: I’ve recently returned to work after a one year maternity leave. I returned to work right in the middle of the great resignation. And many of my coworkers, including my manager, left the organization right around the time I returned to work. Since I’ve been back, I’ve been shuffled around to a new department and a new manager. And though my position hasn’t changed, the scope of my job has become much smaller to the point where I often have nothing to do for weeks on end. I log in every day and complete what limited work is given to me. I’ve told my manager about my workload and have been given some projects to work on outside my role to help fill my time. I’m continually told that I am an asset to the company and that my performance is good, but I’m literally doing nothing. I keep being told that more work is coming, but it never seems to transpire. Is my employer trying to push me out? Are they deliberately giving me less work because I’m a mom now? Should I quit or should I keep collecting my paycheck for doing essentially nothing? Prior to going on leave, I liked my job and the company. As a new mom, I don’t really want to switch jobs. It seems too risky to make a change right now. But I’m so bored. 


Anne Helen Petersen: All right, Jane. Is this relationship over?  


Jane Coaston: Yeah. I mean, I think that that one of the things that is really hard for working parents, specifically working moms, is that how people adjust to folks who are on maternity leave is often to fill in everything that they do. And then when people return, there is this idea that like, oh, we’re actually making this easier for you. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: By having taken over everything that you do. And there are so many companies where, from their perspective, they’ve scrambled to replace this person in a way that makes it as if, you know, having a child is like, oh, I decided to go on like a jaunt to Italy to find myself, but— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Like they treat it like a vacation or like short term disability, which is what people often have to fill in in order to get leave, yes. 


Jane Coaston: Right. And I know so many people were that is in part why they took shorter leave. I’m actually incredibly impressed by this person that they took a full year. Anne-Marie Slaughter wrote in her book about women, a woman who came back two weeks after giving birth, in part because she was like, if I if I don’t show the company that I am integral, they will replace me. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: But I think about this where I’m like, she would be able to have good recommendations. She would be able to have the time. You know, you can take the time in between jobs to kind of like adjust to a new work environment, especially because working as a parent is going to inherently be different than working as not a parent. I am not a parent and my work life is different than it would be if I were a parent. So I think it might actually be like this. This sounds like, yes, collecting a paycheck for not doing anything sounds nice, but I’ve done it. And it is actually the worst. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, it’s really bad. 


Jane Coaston: It feels, I know it feels really risky to switch right now. And, you know, maybe that’s a reason to give it a little bit of time. But I also think that to some degree, it can be an opportunity to find a new job, especially with good recommendations that better fits where you are in your life now, and especially because the company you’re at seems to just be kind of patting you on the head and saying there, there little lady.  


Anne Helen Petersen: So what you’re describing is, I think, really endemic with lots of American companies in particular, in that they don’t backfill for maternity or paternity replacements and instead they pile the work on other people, which oftentimes leads to burnout for those other people. That’s another conversation. But that that refusal to backfill does make it so that your job is somewhat redundant. But then they can’t fire you when you return, right? Because it is discrimination. And you could you could file a lawsuit about it. But what happens when there’s no job there and I’m glad that you emphasize that like it actually is really boring to do a job where there’s nothing to do. You know, I have worked I worked at a bagel shop one summer that was failing and there just weren’t enough customers. And, oh, my gosh, I there were like a couple— 


Jane Coaston: Sorry. There’s something about the idea of working at a slowly failing bagel shop [laughter] where I’m like, oh, that sounds like a death of a salesman situation. 


Anne Helen Petersen: [laughter] Or I also worked at a dude ranch that was failing, and the few times when it was busy, you were like, this could be my life all the time, right? I could have things to do, that sort of stimulation of like continually doing things. And yes, it’s exhausting in another way, but it’s also mentally stimulating. And so what I would do if I were this woman would be to stay at your job and keep collecting this paycheck and, you know, having the benefits that are that are associated with it while you apply for another job, and especially since you have all of this time on your hands because you’re not doing anything, that’s a lot of time to apply for other jobs. 


Jane Coaston: Agreed. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Next up, we’ve got a question from Corbin, a recent grad who feels like maybe he’s gotten in the wrong field. I always love hearing from people who are recent grads. So here we go. 


Corbin: I graduated from college in June of 2020 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology. Job opportunities were understandably pretty slim, so I ended up finding a job outside of my field working in finance. Overall, it was a pretty decent starter job, but it had one major downside in that they wanted me to spend my time off getting multiple certifications in the finance field. I couldn’t really justify spending my time off that way because I knew that I didn’t intend to stay in that field for a longer term career. Recently I got out of that job and I found a job within my field and I was really excited to work somewhere with better work life balance. Within my first week there were multiple meetings about issues with retention and burnout across the department and the agency at whole, which obviously led me to second guess my decision. Since then, it’s only gotten worse. Now I get regular emails asking me to work overtime, work strange hours, and do things that I’m not qualified or trained to do. At this point I’m pretty confident that I’m going to leave. I’m actively interviewing at a few companies that do similar work to what I used to do, but without some of the certifications that ended up leaving me frustrated at my old job. The idea of a new job is exciting and I’m happy about it, but I also can’t help feeling like I don’t have a long term goal anymore and I don’t know what I’m building towards. I feel like if I stay in my current position or even the field, then I’ll end up being taken advantage of and underpaid. What advice do you have for someone early on in their career figuring out that their field isn’t what they expected? 


Anne Helen Petersen: So, Jane, my first question before we talk about whether or not this person should jump ship, is what do you think their job is if it’s in sociology? 


Jane Coaston: I would guess if they went from finance to something else. I wonder if it’s some sort of like statistical analysis. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, that’s maybe a statistical analysis, but then like rampant burnout, weird hours, retention problems. But all I can think of is social work, which is not really sociology. Anyway, we are baffled by this job, but it also feels like if you and even if you didn’t tell me the field, if you just described like systemic problems with retention and burnout, working overtime, working strange hours, doing things that I’m not qualified or trained to do, all of those massive red flags. So do you think this relationship is over? 


Jane Coaston: I think so, yeah. It does sound especially because it sounds chaotic. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes. 


Jane Coaston: I’ve had jobs where, like, I wasn’t I did not want to be there and I wasn’t I was not a good fit. But I’ve also worked at places where like things felt like they were falling apart and that that’s the worst. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: And that sounds like especially because if you’re having lots of it’s like that, you know, your T-shirt of meetings about issues with retention and burnout is sending a lot of messages about your issues with retention and burnout. [laughter] Like, I think that it is, it’s time to go like— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, yeah. 


Jane Coaston: Especially because if you’re early in your career, you graduated in 2020— 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yes, yes. 


Jane Coaston: —you have an opportunity to find different things like I have a history and political science degree. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I was just going to ask this. Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: I wrote my undergraduate thesis on Nazi propaganda before and after the Battle of Stalingrad. You have no idea how long it took for that to actually come up. I did not want it to come up in my daily life and then the 2016 election did and it turned out it sort of did. Yeah, but like there is lots of stuff where, you know, I am, my degree prepared me to be a I’m a really good writer. I can make arguments, I can have a lot of discussions about a lot of different things. I’m very knowledgeable across a bunch of different fields and and I think that that’s been really helpful. But you all, I also knew that like if I just wandered everything, wandered in every situation being like, hello, did anyone call for someone with a history degree? I was never really going to get anywhere. 


Anne Helen Petersen: No, of course not. 


Jane Coaston: And so I think that, like, if you are early on in your career and your field is life, you can do so many different things with a degree in so many different subjects. Like it’s like when people get are like, why would you get a degree in philosophy? And like because you now have one, the ability to make lots of trolley problem jokes and two you can write and argue and use information and synthesize it in a really interesting way and that’s useful in a whole bunch of things. So like recognize that your field is whatever you want it to be. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right, well, in sociology, okay, so backtracking a little bit. I used to teach at a liberal arts school. I went to a liberal arts school. There are a lot of jokes about liberal arts degrees and their uselessness. And one thing that people used to say about sociology, that it was like the study of the painfully obvious, right? 


Jane Coaston: Mm hmm. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I couldn’t disagree more, especially now that I have actually come to understand what sociology is as a field like it is the study of how we think about things as society, right? Like there are so many skills that come along with that. And then if you’re on the other side of sociology where you are doing the stats and analysis and all that sort of thing, there’s so many skills that come along with that as well. So I don’t think this guy needs to go to finance, which obviously was not a good fit either, but instead cast his net wider in thinking about how can I find it a career path? And there are so many careers, as you mentioned earlier, that we don’t even know about. 


Jane Coaston: Yeah. 


Anne Helen Petersen: And one of the ways you find out about careers is just by reaching out to people and being like, can you tell me what your job is? Like what do you do? And thinking about all the different ways that he could find something that aligns more with what he’s actually interested in. The choices are not something I don’t care about in that I don’t want to be trained in or something that is a burnout factory. There are a lot more different options than that. 


Jane Coaston: Yeah, there is no reason to be locked into a burnout factory if you don’t have to be. [music break]


Anne Helen Petersen: So our last question takes us from boredom and burnout into a case of straight up bullying. 


Jane Coaston: Ahhh. Sorry. [laughter] 


Anne Helen Petersen: Let’s hear from Kim. 


Kim: I work in higher education, student affairs, and I’m looking for advice that isn’t just to get a new job. Though the amount of times I’ve gotten that advice means it’s probably worth exploring, and I am exploring it. It’s just, you know, easier said than done. So while I’m still here. My question is what to do about an ineffective supervisor who you believe is incapable of change. My colleagues and I are mistreated by our supervisor in a wide variety of ways, and we’ve given her direct feedback about almost all of them. We’ve brought H.R. in on some of the issues, but usually those are the more clerical ones where we need to include H.R. because she’s given us misinformation about policies, compensation, etc.. So recently I went to H.R. to report more broadly about our experiences and to share how dire the situation has become. Their solution was basically to help me strategize a way to bring all the information I have to my supervisors own boss in order to make sure he knows what we’ve been through and continue to experience under her leadership. I’ve asked what would actually come of this. And they tell me that he can communicate with her about the issues and offer feedback. And they’ve made all the necessary promises about protecting us from retaliation, which is a real concern of ours. But the problem is the feedback has been given. This is not information we’re sitting on. Her approach is narcissistic, ego driven and defensive. What do you do when something hasn’t risen to the level of a viable offense? At least according to preliminary conversations with H.R.. But you also don’t see any real probability for change. I’m the kind of person who wants to have done everything I can, tried everything that’s within my control. But when it comes to the workplace, so much of what’s quote unquote “in your control,” hinges on having to rely on other people and systems like supervisors, H.R., etc., that fail to show up for us time and time again. How can I trust the process when I don’t trust the people behind the process? Do we just give up and accept her treatment? 


Anne Helen Petersen: Jane. Is this relationship over? 


Jane Coaston: I know that this person asked for advice. It isn’t. Just get a new job. [laughter] Yes, but I. And I hear that. I do. But I really do think that. And this person said that, yes, this is worth exploring. And they are exploring it. I understand that. But it also like this is the kind of problem that turns your work into your life. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yup. 


Jane Coaston: This is the kind of thing that you probably go to sleep thinking about and wake up thinking about–


Anne Helen Petersen: Dream about, like have stress dreams about. 


Jane Coaston: It’s not worth it. Like, especially if it’s a supervisor. Like, I have had a terrible I’ve had bad supervisors in the past, one supervisor in particular. As far as I know, she’s like she got terminated. Not like asked to leave. She got terminated, like walked out of the building, like, three weeks after I quit. Which what? Yeah. You know, I love justice. I kind of like to imagine that it was like in cruel intentions, where the father opens the cross and there’s cocaine in it, like. Now, that’s not what happened. But I like imagining that all happened in slow motion. But I think that, like, you have to go. I understand also that this sounds like this person is also trying to protect their colleagues. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: And I understand that that’s one of the things about workspaces that often you kind of develop this like it’s us against the world feeling. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: But at the same point, like. This person’s job is not actually to fix the supervisor or do everything they they’ve done everything that’s in their control. And, yes, you. And if you can’t rely on supervisors or H.R., then don’t trust the process. Leave the process. Hit the bricks. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah, well, and I think, you know, this person said they are working in higher education, student affairs. They are not getting paid enough per hour to justify how much time they are probably allocating to this problem right, emotional weight too. It’s just not enough. Like the job is not good enough to justify this in any way. It would be one thing if she was like, oh my gosh, I just love the work that we’re doing. Doesn’t talk at all about how much she loves the work that she’s doing. Maybe she does. But like the real problem here, the thing that has overtaken her life. Is this relationship with her supervisor. Her approach is narcissistic, ego driven and defensive. I mean, that is an indictment right there. But then she also says, you know, very clearly, I’m the kind of person who wants to have done everything that I can, tried everything that’s under my control. Yeah. There’s just like there’s a point where you have done all those things. There are no more avenues to take. And the one thing that you have under your control, your source of power now is quitting. 


Jane Coaston: It’s just not it’s not worth it. It’s just you got to. No. No, you’ve got to quit. [laughter] That is your power here if you have enough people, especially because I think that enough people quitting indicates the problem. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. 


Jane Coaston: Like that is in itself an indictment. People it does not look good when a lot of people quit a job. It just doesn’t. 


Anne Helen Petersen: I do think, though, okay. We have to acknowledge sometimes people are really in job lock, right. Because of health insurance, because of, you know, they’re in a location where they can’t find any other work in their field. So what would you do if this person cannot quit? Is there anything that she can do in the name of self preservation? 


Jane Coaston: I think work as hard as you can to create boundaries in your own life, especially because this is a situation where you will have to. I mean, honestly, I just keep thinking of that. That moment in The Simpsons, where Homer covers up the sign that says, don’t forget, you’ll be here forever and makes it so it says, do it for her. Like that’s what you need to do here, because this is like this is not you cannot if the means of making the situation better are broken, you just acknowledge, like, that’s not an effort if you don’t have to try harder. This is Sisyphean. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Yeah. 


Jane Coaston: So do what you can to create boundaries. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Right. And I do think, too, in a university, one thing that’s good about a sprawling infrastructure of academia, there are oftentimes similar jobs that this person could look for within the institution if they can’t quit the institution itself. So that might be an opportunity to move laterally and be out from underneath the reign of this person without losing the job altogether. So but if you if you had to give advice to this person, I think we are on the same page that like, please consider quitting even though you don’t want to think this is your power. 


Jane Coaston: Yes, exactly. 


Anne Helen Petersen: Jane, thank you so much for joining me today. Where can people find you if they want to hear more from you? 


Jane Coaston: You can find me at The New York Times. I host the podcast, The Argument. You can also follow me on Twitter @JaneCoaston or just I don’t know. Email me if you have actual questions. I do appreciate when people send me long, argumentative emails, ideally without ethnic slurs, but if you think that adds something, you know, whatever you’re into? [laughter]


Anne Helen Petersen: Jane also tweets a lot about so many topics. Like sometimes I’m like, how does I mean, maybe this is the history major. I’m like, how does Jane know so much about Michigan football and then also celebrity and then also esoteric historical facts? 


Jane Coaston: Yeah. Yep. That’s a it’s a blessing and a curse. But thank you so much for having me. 


Anne Helen Petersen: It’s been a pleasure. [music break] Thanks so much to Jane Coaston for joining me today. And thank you for listening to Work Appropriate. If you’ve got a workplace quandary, you want help figuring out, get in touch. You can find submission guidelines at, or you can send a voice memo with your question to Work Appropriate at Some of the topics we want to tackle involve getting help on creating boundaries between work and everything else. Figuring out our obsession with productivity and surviving academia. If you’ve got a question in one of those categories, let us know. But we also want all of your questions no matter how weird. Work Appropriate is a Crooked Media production. I’m Anne Helen Peterson, your host. Our executive producers are Kendra James and Sandy Girard. Melody Rowell is our producer and editor. Alison Falzetta is our development producer. Music is composed by Chanell Crichlow. Additional production support from Ari Schwartz and a special thanks to Katie Long and Sarah Geismer. You can follow me on Twitter @AnneHelen or on Instagram @AnneHelenPetersen. You can sign up for my newsletter at Meet me here next Wednesday for answers to the question, what if I am my own worst boss?